17 Oct 2010
It is the eve of my exodus from Chile. I wasn’t sure at first, but now having spent a month taking in Nature’s Greatest Hits Vol. X and XI (the regions we explored via Route 7, the only road that goes down here), I happily report an overwhelmingly delicious after-taste. My beautiful impression of this pepper-shaped country – which is as tall as the US is long (but feels so small! – is rivaled only by the growth I’ve had in overcoming the challenges of adapting to nature’s forces new to me with little respite.
Jeff and I have taken on wild Chilean Patagonia by road and bike, pedaling every day towards some faint and distant short-term goal (ie. somewhere in the south, when it gets too cold), camping out and cooking most every morning and night. Honestly, if we weren’t doing this I don’t know what we would be doing, as it’s not exactly a land geared for tourists. Granted, we have arrived well before the onset of the high tourist season.
We made a new friend, Jorge, the Cazador de Ciclistas (hunter of bicyclists!), when he literally captured us upon arrival in his village of Mañiuahles, and made us stay in his Casa de Ciclistas, where we used his laundry machines and internet, hung out in his Salon de Spinning (where he does bike fitness classes), cooked in the kitchen, had out own beds, took HOT showers… really making ourselves at home with an overt invitation to stay as long as we needed… all for FREE. His only request of us was to sign his guest book, which was filled with well over 100 loving entries since 2008. He estimated about 300 cyclists will pass through here in a year, Jeff and I being #3 and #4, preceded by our Basque acquaintances who we met 2 days prior, who Jorge also hunted.
Speaking of small country, some days later, after attempting to catch a boat done to Laguna San Rafael, an overnight cruise into the southern ice fields to explore a sea of glaciers, we were biking further South and none other than Jorge, his wife, daughter and mom ambushed us again on the highway, to pull me over and say hi. I was especially psyched to meet his beautiful Colombian wife, 9-months pregnant, who I only saw in pictures. In our 2 nights there, he only spent a fraction of that time in town… an hour after our capture he had to leave, completely trusted us with keys, his dogs, primo Ricardo (who would stop-by intermittently), and the promise to make ourselves at home. Aww, I love the whole bunch of them, so cute, smiley, with hearts of gold, and the uncanny ability to be everywhere, over 100km from where we met this last time. This last thing, we have seen is unmistakably Chile… it’s so small, socially, that you are never alone, or far from friends or to-be acquaintances.
Case in point, we emailed another cyclist, Ido, that we met at the airport in Santiago about the Cazador de Ciclistas, with his address should he pass through Mañihuales. Tonight we boarded a ferry bound for Chile Chico, our exit point from Chile, and who else but Ido was on the same ferry!
Ferries have been an integral part of making our way South, as Chile increasingly narrows and becomes an archipelago, accessible at times only via a detour through Argentina (which means crossing a mountain pass through the Andes), otherwise by car ferry. We’ve had to take three to stay on route in Chile.
I’ve been captured in many ways: by the people, who are sincere, generous, so chilled-out, playful and beautiful; by the grandeur of it’s wild places, which seem remarkably plentiful and unspoiled; by the freedom we have to enjoy it (nobody hassles you, it’s fine to camp almost anywhere); by its honesty and lack of greed or malice – I never detected even a hint of these in any person we encountered, not even smart-ass kids! by the cold: the lack of sensitivity in all my digits, still numb from frostbite 2 weeks ago. It’s weird, I’m captured now, but soon I’ll free again.